By Charlotte Smith, Barrow & Furness CLP
I was introduced to Movement for Change earlier this year at a Movement for Change session delivered by Ben Maloney and M4C member Lana Orr at International Women’s Day in Liverpool. As well as being the first exciting and inspiring Labour event I had experienced for some time, it made perfect sense to me on two levels. First, people are willing to engage in politics when it is meaningful to them and will organise themselves accordingly, particularly when supported to do so. Second, if we want to win elections, we need to increase support and appropriately activate our existing members. It isn’t rocket science, but it seemed like a revelation to me. I left Liverpool that night and returned to my present home in Cumbria wondering how I could introduce M4C to my CLP, and perhaps even to our local MP, whose election campaign I had recently been appointed to co-ordinate.
At our next branch meeting I fed back what I had learned about M4C, and with the agreement of my colleagues, I contacted Ben and invited him to deliver a session to our CLP. Inspired by Lana in Liverpool, I co-delivered this session with Ben, which was well attended and received positive feedback from the councillors and members present. Ben introduced the concept of community organising and explained the need for capacity-building to gain more support for the party at a local level.
Following the session I was contacted by a number of councillors who had specific projects to work on and wanted further input from Movement for Change. They represented a good cross section of the community – two councillors wanted to do a community walk, one was working on a project to prevent the sale of a local arts centre. A local community group had started to work on a campaign to rebuild a piece of playground equipment which had been destroyed in an arson attack, and the local councillors and MP were acting in support of this. I contacted Ben who again made the gruelling journey from London to Barrow to meet with the community group and councillors to deliver more targeted training specific to their needs. A week later, the community group secured a promise of funding from the council and had gained significant press coverage. Two councillors have commenced the establishment of a “friends” group campaigning for leisure resources. Myself and a colleague have reinvented ourselves as “new member mentors”, to ensure that any new members are contacted and invited to events and offered the opportunity to get active within the party. Once we have practised a bit more and feel more confident, we are planning on carrying out some 1-2-1s with existing members.
CLP members are now learning the importance of action and are beginning to produce tangible results, which in itself has demonstrated to CLP members and councillors the credibility of the M4C methods. It also provided me with a sound evidence base to take the next step – to introduce the concept to our local MP, John Woodcock, for use in his election campaign.
Having been introduced to the methods, John and his team are already talking about how community organising can be used effectively as part of his election strategy campaign. John was particularly interested in how Movement for Change might build links with organisations and community groups to facilitate capacity-building, as well as re-energising the existing activist base.
So we’re now already looking ahead to 2015, and working through plans to organise across Barrow & Furness that will see us deliver action on a wide-range of issues to strengthen our community.